Dayakar Penumadu has never seen completing a Ph.D. as the ending of an educational experience.
"It is only the beginning of even more exciting achievements," said Penumadu, a Fred N. Peebles Professor and department head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE).
Penumadu knows what he is talking about—over a decade after he received his Ph.D. from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, he is still pursuing new knowledge in both the classroom and in the laboratory.
Penumadu was a civil and environmental engineering faculty member at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, when he received word about an opening in UT’s CEE department.
During his doctoral training, Penumadu had become interested in the mechanics of multi-phase materials as related to its microstructure with specific emphasis on colloidal clays. Although much of his fundamental research was not immediately tied to the traditional civil and environmental engineering areas, he was eager to explore advances related to the physico-chemical behavior of these micron to nanometer particles and how those particles behave in assembly.
"I was using many materials science and engineering techniques in the research that I was conducting," Penumadu explained. "I started to step out of the civil and environmental engineering boundaries to work with researchers in other areas."
UT’s reputation for extensive multidisciplinary research in the area of materials interested Penumadu, particularly since a professorship at the university also provided an opportunity to coordinate projects through the Tennessee Advanced Materials Lab (TAML), a program of joint UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) research.
Penumadu joined the TCE faculty in 2001, and has been working with researchers in several other engineering departments on a variety of multidisciplinary projects. He has received numerous grants and contracts, including a $1.4 million project sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE) and General Motors to generate research on using clay-based refractory coatings for metal-casting processes and a contract from the National Science Foundation to study the effect of microstructure on mechanical properties of Kaolin in three dimensions.
Penumadu has received numerous awards for his research, including the "Best Technical Paper Award" by the American Foundry Society in 2005, the UT Tickle College of Engineering Research Fellow Award in both 2004 and 2005, and the Outstanding Teacher Award in the CEE department in 2003
Although Penumadu enjoys the rewards of research, he also stresses the importance of teaching.
"Teaching is the most important function of a faculty member," he commented. "It is important to bring excitement to the students through knowledge, that is why good researchers are usually good teachers."
Penumadu is impressed with the level of dedication shown by both his undergraduate and graduate engineering students and appreciates the challenge of dealing with two very different styles of instruction.
"Although the course materials that are used in undergraduate classes are less technically complex, there is a strong personal satisfaction in providing that initial learning experience," he said. "The graduate students have more intricate material to understand and the additional requirement of performing research to back up their knowledge."
Penumadu is appreciative of the opportunity to affect so many individuals through his role as a UT professor and researcher.
"It’s wonderful to have the feeling that I have made a difference in the lives of so many students," he added. "They are ambassadors of what we do here–every time I enter a classroom and see the students, I realize that they will eventually all go in different directions and will influence so many others along the way. It is important that we serve them well as educators."
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